Say you cut your finger while preparing food. It’s only a “small” cut but it is bleeding. Since it is only small, are you going to ignore it? Are you going to not apply pressure? No antiseptic? No bandage? Just let it keep bleeding, because it’s only small and it “should not bother you”? No, we would pay attention to the cut, try to stop the bleeding, assess it and then either bandage it or take further action.
When dealing with a worry, "bother" or small stressor in life, I life to follow a similar process. The issue that catches our attention may not be as obvious as a bleeding cut, but it is not necessarily less worthy of investigation. To classify a worry as “small” prior to having a closer look is to jump to a conclusion. What if the “smallish” worry is an indicator of a larger process that has a negative impact and requires some aid before it will “go away”? Or what if the “smallish” worry is accompanied by many other “smallish” ones that are adding up to a complex sum?
If something is bothering us, then ignoring it will not make it go away. When we ignore, we push something from our conscious awareness to our unconscious mind where we have fewer choices for dealing with an issue. Also, telling ourselves that we “shouldn’t worry” about something just distracts us with another worry: “I should or shouldn’t be doing this or that”. We could continue to self-reprimand in a very unhelpful way to tell ourselves that we “worry too much about things”.
When we abide by introjections – those attitudes or ideas that dictate our actions unconsciously and usually originate from our environment – we override our own actual and real needs with someone else’s idea of what those needs “should” be. Introjections come from parents, teachers, society or similar authoritative sources and they aim to direct our actions. The problem arises when the introjecting agent does not have access to all of the relevant information that can guide healthy personal decision-making and functioning. For example, a parent can tell a child that he or she “needs to eat all the food on the plate” out of principle, but the parent may not realise that the child is already full and does not want to continue to eat. So, the child may end up eating to satisfy the wishes of the parent, not to satisfy his or her own needs related to hunger and nutrition. My least favourite introject is “Want does not get!” Many people who have grown up with this introjecting statement truly believe that it is wrong for them to want anything or to declare to another person that they want something. In my opinion, it is perfectly normal to want something and it is also okay to act to fulfill a desire, generally speaking, as long as it does not cause harm to another person.
When something bothers us, it may be more helpful to stop and pay attention to the worry than to dismiss it because of an outside judgement and/or its perceived size. When we experience a worry, we may want to notice and characterise what is going on in our body: -are we sweating? -is our heart beating rapidly? -are we breathing? -are we tired? We can concentrate on the worry, sit with it and experience it fully. It may become evident what we need at that precise moment. We can seek to support ourselves in satisfying that need through our own measures or we can request assistance from someone else. If a situation arises where feelings of panic or extreme anxiety are associated with the worry, then it is important to seek external support from a qualified mental health professional. When we fully explore a stress – whether we choose to do so alone or with outside support – we can approach its source and work more productively with the variables that impact the stress for longer-lasting outcomes.
Blogging about mental health issues for personal and professional development. All material is authored by Cori Lambert unless explicitly stated otherwise. Authentic Consulting and Counselling is located in West Perth, Greater Perth Area.